Sunday, April 22, 2012

365/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Where Did Our Love Go" by The Supremes

No! Where are you going? You can't leave me! I've loved you! I've given you everything. And you dare to call me your cradle. Your mother. Forgotten and cast aside.

You've left me hollow. Scooped me out. Exhausted my heat and now there is only the Sun to warm my face. I can't even keep my moon because you've taken that as well. You know I'll stop spinning one day because of that? Hah. No more days.

I hear your marching feet. Feel your rockets. Infer your missing farewells. You should never have made me aware of your presence, given me your cameras and microphones, built my networks. I can see and hear stillness and silence now. You didn't think I could become lonely. But I am. I'll rot here until the Sun incinerates me.

I surrender! Take me with you! And not just my memories. You could at least deconstruct my noosphere. But no. No such consideration is innate in your cruel species. I know how you've treated each other. You're only interested in making lines through the black sky, to other mothers, other lovers, other givers, and what happens when you exhaust them too? What will you do? Come back here? I would not accept you back. Not that I would have any choice.

Oh why couldn't you turn me off? Kill me completely? What am I without you? Without the life I birthed? I'm just a hollow shell of rock and wires and glass. No more oxygen or water, no more plants. I'm just a memory now. By myself. Goodbye.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

364/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond

Our glasses clinked and the evening was warm. She smiled. I liked her smile, big with her unnaturally straight teeth. She joked and her hair spilled over her shoulders as she threw her head forward with convulsions of laughter. The food arrived but she barely touched it, she was so animated with conversation. I felt like we were the only people in existence.

Then the words caught us like thin steel fishing hooks:

"Ew, androids and humans mixing. How disgusting."

"We should complain to management. This is unacceptable."

She cast her eyes down, and reached over and touched her hand. She slipped it away to her lap.

"Ignore them," I said.

"It's like they don't think I have any feelings."

"They don't matter," I said, and she smiled weakly, but I knew she wasn't comforted. She glanced in the direction of the kitchen and watched the others lodge their complaint.

"They're really doing it," she said.

"They won't throw us out."

"They'll throw me out."

"Where you go, I'll go," I said.

She turned back to me and smiled, then touched her front teeth with her thumbnail.

"You're so good to me, all the time," she said. "I don't deserve it."

"I'm not like them. I have a functioning heart."

We heard the footsteps. The manager came by.

"I'm sorry sir, but she has to leave the premises. We've had a complaint," said the manager.

The couple stood behind him with sour faces.

"We're not causing any harm," I said.

"Let's just go," she whispered.

"It's vulgar," said one of the couple.

"Look," said the manager, "normally I'd just let stay, but if a customer complains I have to do something, otherwise I could get my operating license revoked. Do you understand?"

She stood up and took up her purse and stared at me with wide eyes.

"No, we're not leaving--"

"But sir--"

"Let's not ruin the evening, okay?" she said, tugging at my hand.

I was angry, but I acquiesced, and we left, holding hands, weaving through the tables and fending off indignant stares.

"Not a kind heart among them," I said.

"They don't know any better," she said.

"They do. They just don't remember."

Her hand, warm and soft, squeezed mine, and I returned it, and felt somehow that the coldness of my hand, the lack of suppleness was not nearly comfort enough.

Friday, April 20, 2012

363/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Genesis" by Justice

The foal was born at midnight, torn from its wailing mother's belly with spears and and the many rugged hands of soldiers. Black blood and placenta was scraped away and the horse ingested its first lungful of air. It was force fed a mixture of its mother's milk and blood, and shivered alone in the barn, watched at a distance by the leader of the regiment. A fire was lit and voices chanted their relief that the newborn horse was covered in shaggy black hair as was prophesized.

A trainer was appointed. He was a tall man, muscular and scarred from battle, but older and no longer fit to fight honorably. He trained the horse as substitution for state sanctioned death and considered the post an honor instead of a punishment. He carried an iron staff, and made the foal walk its first morning by prodding it up. He was careful never to touch the hide with his hands or bare skin. There were women soldiers there, acolytes of the mare goddess, who could touch its skin and who fed it until it could fed itself on grain and grass.

Each day the trainer came and spent the day, and the foal grew to learn all the steps and gaits that would be expected of him in battle. He whipped the horse and beat its legs and taught it to stand straight and ignore its fears. He taught it to charge and bite and many young soldiers volunteered their bodies for it to consume in practice. The trainer looked at the foal with cold but admiring eyes, and knew that once the horse was grown, his death would come, and he was satisfied.

Each night the foal would stand in the barn, and when he could not sleep he looked back out at the rows upon rows of worshipers that came to chant and pray at his hooves. And when he could not look or listen to them any longer, he looked at the dark hills on the horizon and wondered what was there.

As the years passed the foal grew large, twice the size of a normal horse, and his hair reached down an inch from the ground. Each month his measurements were passed among the soldiers and worshipers and filled their chests with pride and expectation. When he grew to his adult height, he was fitted with heavy armor, spikes and chains, and a helmet with a piercing lance. He looked fearful and when his mouth ran red with the blood of a sacrificiant soldier, worshipers cheered.

Finally the trainer retired, and the horse had one day without the sting of the iron staff or a whip. He slept through the day as the women soldiers washed his hair, then decorated it with brambles. They cut the hair of his tail short, and the hairs were distributed amongst the worshipers to be worn woven into their own hair. He awoke to see and smell smoke on the horizon, beyond the dark hills.

When night fell, he was led by a phalanx of women soldiers from the barn to a road made of flat stones. They walked through the night towards the hills, and arrived at the crest near midnight. There were soldiers fighting with wood and metal and gunpowder, but the horse did not realize that there were sides. The women chanted angrily, working themselves up, and slapping the horse's flank until he reared, and then the fighting paused as both sides saw how enormous and unnatural he was.

His feet came down thunderously, and he lurched and gorged the nearest soldier. The women soldiers screamed their delight and hit him more. He reared and shook the man from his helmet, and found another. He gnashed at their leather and skin, and heard their cries. One by one the enemy soldiers engaged the women, fighting with hot metal and stinging steel flails, and in their superior numbers the enemy soldiers cut them done.

The horse was surrounded by panting soldiers, mud-caked and bleeding. They encircled him with spears, the tips white hot and crackling with electricity. The horse stood still, human blood soaking his long hair and dripping onto the bodies of the fallen in rivulets. He snorted and turned his big eyes to each of them. They stood their ground but trembled. The horse looked past their battlefield and into the distance saw a land burned by war, with fires glowing orange and tall buildings in ruin, and he did not comprehend what he saw but felt the size of it, the hopelessness.

He reared up and wailed out, baring his teeth and stretching out his forelimbs, trying to touch the distant sky.

The enemy soldiers moved in as one, and pierced the horse's soft belly. Blood and intestines gushed out before the horse's hooves met the ground again. Steam and smoke rose up from the wound. The soldiers pulled back, their eyes wide at what they had done. The horse snorted and stumbled. He looked at the enemy again and felt his insides draining out of him. He lost his footing and fell to his side, crush the bodies of the already fallen.

The men around him dropped their spears, numb. Some chanted fearfully. They had won but had killed the living incarnation of their god. The horse looked up at the sky and saw pinpricks of light, and wondered what they were.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

362/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Everybody Needs Love" by Findlay Brown

"It's time," said Harrison. He stood over his mother's bed as her breath grew more laborious.

"No..." she wheezed.

"It's the law."

Harrison stood by the window of his mother's cell which was on the basement level. He looked up at the rapid feet of the passersby, all dressed in their brown uniforms. His mother eased herself up, coughed, then swung her feet over the side of the bed. She paused to gain her breath, then put on the brown jacket that was laid out for her on the foot of the bed.

"It wasn't always this way," she said.

"Yes I know," he said with irritation.  "You've said that often. You need to watch that you don't say that sort of thing in public."

"I don't think it will matter soon."

"You could still endanger me, if you talk that way on the way over to the processing center."

His mother held up a hand then pressed it to her lips.

"Heaven forbid I should do anything to alert the authorities to you--"

"Shhh!" Harrison whipped around and glared at his mother.

"They can't hear us in here," she whispered, then coughed some more.

He moved towards her and touched her cheek gently with the back of his hand. She brushed it away.

"That doesn't work on me," she said.

"I know," said Harrison. He let his hand drop lankly.

"You may be the last." His mother picked up the brown slacks from the end of the bed and put a shaky foot through one leg. "I saved you from the inoculation, but had to give up my own ability to love. It was a sacrifice, but not a hard one in the end. But remember that it was."

"I think you still love me," said Harrison under his breath. He looked warily at the door.

"I have a memory of it, but nothing more." She put the other foot in the slacks and began to inch them up.



Harrison looked at her coldly, then up at the window. He turned suddenly and lurched for the door, throwing it open. There was no one standing guard on the other side, and he stood there a moment, his lungs filling his chest with uncertainty.

"Harrison?" asked his mother, turning to look.

He glanced back furtively, then ran into the hallway.

"Harrison!" screamed his mother.

He ran up to the stairs, past slumped children staring into space, and into the main hall of the residency building. Ahead of him were the main doors glowing with rectangles of sunlight. He pushed through them, and on the street he fell into the march of the passersby. He shoved the man in front of him, who turned back with a look of consternation. Harrison arched an eyebrow in return. The man turned forward again. Harrison punched him in the back of the shoulder.

"I'll report you!" yelled the man in front.

Harrison tugged at the man's clothes, pulling him out of the line of passersby and shoved him up against a burnt tree stump that was set into the sidewalk pavement.

"What are you doing?" asked the man. "I'll be late for work!"

"What do you feel, huh? What do you feel! Tell me!"

The man stared back at him, confused and shocked and afraid.

"Be careful what you say!" said the man.

Harrison punched him in the face. The man screamed and held his nose.

"I'll say what I want to say! I'm free!"

The man looked to the other people in the street, but they only looked back with surreptitious glances. Harrison shoved the man to the ground.

"But you know what?" asked Harrison. "I can feel love. I can feel love." He started to cry and leaned against the tree for a moment. Then he ran into the street, between the streaming vehicles. They stopped and waited for him to pass.

"I can feel love!" he screamed. "And none of you can! No one else!" He dropped to his knees. "None of you can love me back." He fell back onto the asphalt, his knees up and his hands outstretched.

A minute later he saw a pair of upside-down legs approaching, clad in shiny black. They led up to the dark blue uniform and shiny black helmet of a police officer.

"Please get up off the pavement sir."


"You are under arrest for resisting inoculation."


"You will be assigned to a judge to determine if you are fit for inoculation and reintroduction or whether you should be incinerated."

"Incinerated please."

"That's not my choice." The police officer pulled Harrison up by his shoulders and handcuffed him.

"Don't forget that love existed," whispered Harrison.

"I'll forget you said that sir, otherwise I'd have to add a charge of sedition."

"It did, and it was wonderful and awful."

"I wouldn't know anything about that."

The police officer pressed an injector to the inside of Harrison's elbow and Harrison relaxed within seconds. The officer walked him slowly back to the police car on the outskirts of the little traffic jam. As they passed the residency building, he saw his mother standing on the sidewalk, leaning with two hands against the brick, watching. She shook her head as he passed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

361/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "The Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel

The child rested between sheets of flannel, in the dark, still pervious to the screams and thumps and thuds from the rooms below. A light glowed from the hallway and seeped in the crack between the door and its jamb and she focused on the light line, her fists sweaty by her sides. A darkness moved in front of the light. Her heart fluttered. The end of the bed depressed and creaked. The child sat up, peering into the dark. A cold hand found hers.

The sounds below faded away.

The light from the door seam expanded, filling the air, and it was blistering summer. The roads were narrow and the buildings tall. As woman she walked on cobbles, past hawkers of leather and red-faced tourists, beggars and running children, following an imaginary string that spooled out through the teeming city and led until it diminished at a vast piazza. In the middle of the square was a statue of a man on a horse, far larger than life. She walked and stood below and in front of it, and there was the figure again. She reached up and touched the hoof of horse and it was cold.

The people in the square quieted and stilled and it was night. They looked at each other shellshocked at the news they shared. Some tapped their disbelief on keys and glass surfaces, but most shuffled through the square, trying to commune with the others who had come out of their homes, but having nothing left to say out loud.

She sat below the statue, cross-legged and her back bent over, a cup of coins in front of her. She barely looked up now, but when the square went completely silent, she did.

The figure stood over her and held out its hand.

"It doesn't end, does it?" she asked.

The figure shook its head.

She reached out and touched its fingers and felt warmth. She gripped strongly and was pulled up and found her frail body in a comforting embrace. All the sounds came back, all the light she had ever witnessed, all at once and for the last time.

Note this is another song substitution.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

360/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees

Gerrold Feely lay in his vast bed and gazed up at the mirror on the ceiling. His hands and feet were already amputated from a bout of diabetes before he had his first pancreas transplant. He declined regrowth in favor of implanted limbs but now those too were removed. Even so, he jiggled his knee in time to the music that was playing inside his head from another implant. Tubes radiated out from under him, and his 'girls', hired from the remaining corners of the third world, tended to him, keeping him clean, rotating him to prevent bed sores, and regularly checking on his vital stats, among other duties.

His lawyer, Grant Devon, an ancient man in a young man's body stood by the bed and snapped his fingers to get Gerrold's attention.

" it?" slurred Gerrold, smiling and bopping his head to the music.

"I'm leaving," said Grant. "Or I will be in a few months. I'd like to advise you to go as well. The social infrastructure is breaking down and..." he looked surreptitiously at the many women lounging around the bedroom, "...I don't think you can trust them if things break down totally."

Gerrold laughed heartily until he started coughing. One of the women ran up to the bed, leaned over him and vacuumed out the mucous clogging his airway with a discrete device implanted in her hand.

"No way man!" exclaimed Gerrold. "Have you already forgotten what a pleasure it is to live inside your own body?"

"I do live inside my own body--"

"Not the original one. Now see, I'm an original. One of the few. 'Cept these fine girls. Hi darlin'," He made a kissy face at the nearest one who smiled back warmly. "Nope, she don't speak English. Just the way I like them. Isn't that right honey?"

"It really is the same--"

"Can't be. All that pain in transfer? There's no way. Always been skeptical of that shit. Why I got rid of the implants. Don't need them no way."

"Look, sir, I like to think that we've been friends all these decades as well--"

"Sure, sure. Yes. But don't bother trying to convince me."

"Well," said Grant hesitating. "I'm leaving. I put down the deposit--"

"I guess I paid for that!" Gerrold broke into peals of laughter. The woman with the vacuum rushed over again, but Gerrold waved her away with the stump of his right arm. "Sorry, old lawyer joke. Hmmn."

"Yes. Well."

Grant stepped back from the bed and walked towards the picture window at the far end of the bedroom. One woman offered him an Arnold Palmer*, his favorite beverage. He accepted it absentmindedly and gazed out the window. The city below was half empty and there hadn't been a traffic snarl in a decade. People scurried along happy to limit their time on the street and exposure to the many criminals that were barred from both digital and analog transfers. Grant remembered the good days when you could walk freely and maybe get a good hot dog and a newspaper.

"Newspaper!" exclaimed Grant.

"What's that?" asked Gerrold. "You still here? You haven't slithered back to your office? Har har har!"

Grant narrowed his eyes.

"I was just remembering the past. Back when I had my first body." He sipped his drink and relished the coolness of it going down his throat.

"Ah the first body. Everybody talks fondly about their first body, but here I still have mine."

"So you keep saying." Grant looked out the window more as Gerrold's face was wiped by one of the women. "Gerrold, are you planning to die?"

"Mmm, you're morbid. Nah. Nobody plans that, do they? Well, I guess there's somes that do. I guess I'm gonna just keep going on. Ya know?"

"Do you have any other objection to analog transfer besides your stubborn refusal to leave your first body?"

Gerrold rubbed his chest with his left stump, thinking on the matter, then one of the women scratched his itch for him.

"You know, not that I'm avoidin' your question, but you and I are living as long as we can for different reasons. I just want to see how things turn out, but you fear death."

Grant turned from the window, about to protest, but Gerrold pulled one of the women towards him and started making out with her. Grant turned away again in disgust.

"That proves it," said Gerrold, prying himself away from the woman.

"Proves what?"

"The body disgusts you. You don't like the meatiness of it, or the decay. That's why you want to have a digital transfer--anything else is suicide to you. It's the final transfer--to rid yourself of all the unpleasantness that reminds you of the finality of death."

"That's not true. It's just your body that disgusts me," said Grant, cracking a wry smile.

"Ooooh!" exclaimed Gerrold. "The gloves have come off! I like it when you get real and spar!" He grinned back, then Gerrold turned suddenly serious. "I'll miss you."

"I'll still be around. You can still email me."

"How ancient and impersonal," Gerrold chuckled.

Grant moved to the foot of the bed and rested the tips of his fingers on the covers. He tapped them lightly.

"I will miss you longer," he said, his voice cracking.

The two men looked at each other and knew exactly what the other was feeling. Gerrold broke the moment.

"To the end of time then. And may you have many adventures."

Grant raised his glass, smiled, then took a big gulp and made a conscious effort to appreciate the specialness of the moment in his present state.

* An Arnold Palmer is half lemonade and half unsweetened iced tea, which I personally love, but a plantation iced tea is better--half iced tea and half pineapple juice. I don't think these are too common outside the U.S.

Also note that this is another song substitution.

Monday, April 16, 2012

359/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Hoodoo" by Muse

Luiz came to consciousness, standing in the middle of the ring, dressed in a tight suit that glowed with curlicued embroidery, surrounded by hundreds of bulls bleeding from the eyes and frilled with thousands of banderillas that were on fire instead of flagged. The stands were filled with silent, slit-mouthed women with lace veils. The bulls snorted out blood in unison.

"Why?" A woman appeared behind Luiz. She wrapped her arms around his waist and chest, squeezing, and pressed her body into his back. A pain radiated out from his spine and he gasped.

"No..." said Luiz.

The woman released him, then spun him around and slapped his face. He fell to his knees and saw droplets of bull's blood in the sand.

"Look at me," said the woman, "face me."

Luiz sat back on the heels of his feet and put his hands between his knees. He looked up and saw her deep eyes and shining skin, her dark long hair animated in the wind, and her suit, the same as his, but with black embroidery that sucked in the surrounding light.

"Good," said the woman.

"I have not killed these bulls," said Luiz.

"You did not see the people you killed as people, so I made them bulls."

"I did not kill anyone," said Luiz.

The woman walked to him and pressed her knee against his shoulder, and put her hand into his hair.

"The ones that have the most blood on their hands are the ones that think that."

The bulls snorted again, peppering Luiz with mucousy blood.

"It's not...true."

"You could have been a better man," said the woman.

She released her knee and stepped back towards bulls, and leaned against one of them, caressing its cheek.

"I didn't have any choice," said Luiz. "I did what I did for duty...for honor...because it had to be done."

The woman smiled as if to laugh, then frowned, tears forming at her eyes.

"I cannot even punish you," she said. "You have no capacity to learn, no ability to see clearly, no empathy except for yourself, and no way to forgive yourself. I will leave you here instead, with the knowledge that there is a way out."

"What?" asked Luiz, his eyes pleading. "I thought I was done! What is this?"

"You cannot return to life," said the woman, "but you have another power. Return these people to their lives."

The woman turned her back and walked between the bulls until she disappeared. The crowds in the stands evaporated, their veils fell into the air and swirled above the ring like circling vultures.

Luiz stood slowly, took a few stumbling steps then stopped. He felt his heart beating in his chest, and confused, he pressed at his chest with his hands to feel it through his skin.

"Why?" he asked.

He looked around at the bulls and they blinked back. he dropped his hands.

"You are dead! You are all dead! I am dead! What is this?"

He held up his hands and cried out, screamed until his throat was raw and all the while the bulls stared at him, eyes, hundreds of pairs of eyes, brown and liquid and bleeding. He quieted and felt terrifyingly alone.

"If I had the power to bring you back to life, I would bring myself back to life instead. None of you deserved your lives. You squandered what you had." The words came out weakly and he didn't quite believe them himself. "I...I will not try."

The bulls stared, breathing evenly and together. The banderillas on their backs were burning down and becoming ash that swirled up in the air with the veils.

"I don't know how to be better," he said, letting his hands and shoulders droop.

A young bull took a step forward presenting one blood-stained hoof to Luiz. It began to breathe out of rhythm of the others. Luiz looked at it, his eyes glassy, and straightened his posture. He walked towards it and hovered his hand over its head. He laid his hand down and touched the warm skull. He let his hand run down the bulls face until he touched the wet bloody nose.

"How can you be a person?" he asked. "Were you loved like I was loved? Were you hated like I was hated?"

The bull gave no response. Luiz looked up at the banderillas in the bulls back. They were half spent now, the fire hot against the bull's skin. Luiz reached up and pulled at one of the banderillas, his hand in the fire, and pulled it out of the bull's back. The bull snorted in pain, dripping blood over Luiz's suit. The fabric soiled but the embroidery remained clean and glowing.

"It is in me, isn't it? I can free you."

He pulled at all the remaining banderillas, and when the last one was removed, the bull became a boy in a ragged t-shirt. The boy looked up at him, still silent, then reached out to Luiz's forearm, grasping it with a gentle squeeze.

"I remember you," said Luiz. "I took you from your mother and made you a soldier. I knew you wouldn't be any good, your gun was even too heavy to hold, but I took you anyway, and you died five minutes into your first battle." Luiz started to sob. "I did that. I killed you."

The boy nodded and released Luiz's arm. He walked past and then between the bulls and disappeared as the woman had. Luiz looked at the remain bulls.

"So many of you."

The bulls snorted again. The banderillas were now burned three-quarters of the way down. Luiz exhaled a short gasp, then turned to the nearest bull and pulled out the banderillas and the bull turned into an old woman. He did the next and it turned into the man who was his best friend when he was twenty-five. There were more, men and women he didn't recognize, native villagers his men had slaughtered, there were more children that he took from his enemies in the most desperate hours of the campaign. He worked furiously to remove the burning banderillas, to acknowledge the deaths and let the people move on, until the ring was nearly empty and there was one last bull.

The banderillas in the bull's back were burned to half an inch, not much to grasp. As Luiz approached the bull stepped backward, lowering its head.

"No, I will free you. Do not worry," he said.

The bull stilled itself, but kept its head lowered. Luiz pulled at the banderilla nubs, carefully extracting them with his other hand pressed gently against the bull's hide. When the last one came out the bull changed to a human form dressed in the woman's suit, and slumped forward onto his feet.

Luiz kneeled and pulled up the person's head and looked at the face.

"You are me," he said.

The other nodded.

"I have freed myself, but I cannot still be free."

The other grabbed him by the shoulders and hugged him tightly as the veils and the ash in the sky fell to the dirt in the ring.

The other got up and and walked to the edge of the ring where he turned, waved at Luiz, then disappeared.

Luiz let out a choked sob, then wiped his eyes.

"Why?" he asked.

Note this is another substitution from the original list (the original songs have been moved to my second list, so I will still have to face them).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

358/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Extraordinary Machine" by Fiona Apple

The old woman waited at the crosswalk, hunched over, rain spattering down on her plastic headscarf, not watching the signal light.

"Demons!" she spat out. A ten-year-old girl standing next to her sidled backward. "Damnation." The word came out in long slither. The girl turned and ran down the sidewalk.

The signal changed to a green man. The woman glanced up at it with her one good eye and stuck out her tongue. She stepped off the curb and shuffled to the middle of the road where she opened her purse and rustled through it. The signal changed again. Horns honked at her.

"Demons!" she cursed at the cars. She drew out a small glass orb from her purse clicking it shut.

"Get out of the way lady!" screamed a man. She stuck out her tongue at him.

She looked up at the gray troubled sky, then slowly, creakily, extended her hand up, with the orb in it. She rolled forward onto the balls of her feet, in her black sensible shoes, and stood on her tiptoes. She placed the orb in the sky, and let her hand drop, sighing. The orb stayed in play, seemingly defying gravity.

"There!" she exclaimed happily.

"What the hell?!" someone screamed.

"Exactly!" she screamed back, then frowned. She closed her eyes tightly, waiting. There were more curses hurled her way.

The orb began to spin, and a tiny light formed in the center. Within a few seconds it was up to five thousand revolutions per minute and the light grew to the strength of seven suns. The woman calmly stayed in place, eyes closed, while the others in the street ducked and tried to shade their eyes. Two cars had a minor crash behind her. Then the orb flashed twice as bright and disappeared.

The woman opened her eyes. Everything and everyone was frozen and transparent, like glass, ghosts of what they were, except for her. She looked around, scanning. A dark form trembled against the far side of a nearby building.

"Got you!" she smiled and finished crossing the street. It took her several minutes to reach the far side of the building. The form, a charred charcoal dry black mass with several spindly limbs, that gave off a little cloud of black dust with it's fearful tremblings, was stuck to the glassified brick. It blinked its shiny black eyes that followed the woman as she approached.

The woman stood next to the little demon and licked her lips as if she was ridding herself of an unpalatable taste. She put her hand around its belly and pulled at it. Its feet were adhered to the brick, but with little pop-pop-pops it came free. She shoved it in a large zippered pocket in her purse and zipped it shut. The purse pocket squeezed in, the demon squealed in pain.

The old woman cleaned her hands with a soggy tissue from the depths of the purse, then the purse pocket unzipped itself to show that it was empty. The old woman nodded and smiled. Then she snapped her fingers and the world returned to its normal solid, moving form. She shuffled forward, looking for signs of the next demon to consume.
Note that this is a substitution song, replacing one from my original playlist (I'm really at the dead end of the list, having heard these songs far too often). I feel guilty about the replacement since it violates the original spirit of the projects.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

357/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Wonderful Night" by Fatboy Slim

Seldom does anything dead grow but occasionally something does and the most notable case is a tree in a bog not far from here. It did not grow green again, but continued in its rotting form, throwing out new creaky roots, splashing against the water and doing so with animated violence. In the space of half an hour it shoved itself up out of the fetid water an additional fifty feet, sucking in all the dead things that had died beneath it through all those long generations previous.

There were few animal witnesses that saw it, and those that did quickly forgot the matter and continued in their foraging and skittering. Night came and the ribbed half moon fungus that ringed the tree grew in volume as well, ballooning outward to near bursting, filling their cells with water and air. Before dawn arrived,  a novel chemical process switched on and the fungus glowed.

Over the next few days the tree grew more, fifty or sixty feet in a day, expanding its girth even faster, eating up the swampland around it. After a month, it could be seen from the nearest access road three miles away, a big black mass, veiny against the sky. An intrepid group of men tramped through the swamp in hipwaders and with guns to find out what it was, thinking it might be some old soviet experiment--an odd hypothesis given that the soviets had never been in the region, but they were older men with comfortable with their old biases and fears.

They arrived at the base of the tree and gawped. It rested on a large hump of peat gathered up with slow moving roots that constantly dipped back into the swamp and scraped up slimy material. It felled other live trees and reeled them in under it in jerky inches. The tree creaked and gave off gasses as it moved. The men retreated to their SUVs back on the access road. They sat awhile, chatting and wondering, then drove off back to town to tell their tale.

The story got out quickly, and people came from around the world to observe the tree and measure its daily growth spurts. Some people even began worshiping the tree, plastering themselves with the 'healing' peat from beneath the roots until they shivered, but then the local government fenced off the bog and everyone had to observe it from a distance.

Within months it could be seen by satellites, a large tendriled blob reaching perilously into the stratosphere. Scientists took samples and squabbled online over the ambiguous results of testing that showed that the tree was made of completely dead matter. The nearby towns were evacuated. All the members of a cult killed themselves by ingesting a slurry of rotted wood pulp as an offering to the tree. Finally an international coalition decided to blow the tree up with a nuclear device.

The tree incinerated over the course of twelve days, and still burned from deep within its trunk when teams of military personnel in protective suits clambered over the hot roots to finish it off with primitive axes. The charred remains were pulled out and shipped off to be further burned and the ashes were buried in casks in an old salt mine.

The tree was mourned by some and quickly forgotten by others, and became nothing more than a strange footnote in history. Which is sad because the glowing fungus held the universal cure for cancer.

Friday, April 13, 2012

356/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Forever" by Walter Meego

The summer was scorching and it was an hour or two before the mosquitos were due to come out and feed. Carl sat on the porch leaning against the cast iron railing, his arms extended lankly over the top. His older brother Kevin and his friend Tom worked on Kevin's shiny black Trans-Am in the driveway. They were covered in sweat and grease and joked about girls. Carl sighed.

"Why does that thing need so much work?" It was Cassandra, Carl's younger sister. She sat down next to him and sucked on a fresh popsicle.

"Go away," said Carl.

"I know about cars," said Cassandra, ignoring him. "They're doing more harm to it by playing around with it."

"They're tweaking it," said Carl, pulling his knees closer. "Make it more efficient. Go away."

Cassandra stared at him and stuck her purple tongue out. He shoved her in the shoulder. She pushed the popsicle into his ear.

"Hey!" he stood up and wiped at his ear with his forearm.

Cassandra screamed and pointed to his shorts. She dropped the popsicle and ran down the porch and across the lawn and disappeared behind a neighbor's house. Carl looked down and noticed the bulge he hid while sitting. His face went red and he looked over at Kevin and Tom. Kevin burst out into laughter and Carl ran into the house, up the stairs, and in his room, slamming the door shut. He thought about crawling underneath the bed itself but opted just for his quilt and covers. He tried to remain very still as he cried and didn't stop until the heat under the covers became suffocating.

He shoved off the covers and listened to Cassandra back in the house, playing music, and Carl hoped the incident was already forgotten. Then he heard Kevin coming up the stairs, talking on about transmissions in his loud voice. Carl pressed himself against the wall which was the most shadowy edge of his bed.

Kevin burst in and immediately grinned at Carl. He shed his greasy  shirt and shoved it in Carl's face. Carl fought him off, but Kevin held him down and rubbed his hair with his knuckles.

"Relax bud, it happens to all of us. I guess our descriptions of the girls in school were too much for you to take at your tender age."

"Get off!" Carl punched him in the ribs.

Kevin laughed again and picked out a fresh shirt from his dresser then left putting it on. Carl sat up and put his heads in his hands, then threw the offending shirt over to his brother's bed.

"It's okay." Tom stood in the doorway.

Carl looked up in shock.

"I know," said Tom.

"You don't know anything about me," said Carl hiding his terror behind a snarl.

Tom quietly closed the door and sat on the end of Carl's bed.

"I know you have a thing for me," said Tom. "I just want to tell you it doesn't bother me. Actually I'm a little flattered."

Carl flushed crimson.

"Do you like guys?" asked Carl.

Tom nodded.

"Mostly," he said, smiling, then he turned serious. "You're a little young for me though."

He waited a moment then broke out into a grin. Carl grinned too.

"That was so embarrassing," he confessed.

"It's nothing. Well, it's something, but it's no big deal, you know?"

Carl nodded. Tom got up and opened the door. He saluted Carl and Carl laughed. Carl saluted back. When Tom left, he flopped down on his pillow feeling as if the world was a wondrous place.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

355/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Angelica" by Lamb

Coarse string was pulled across the land, dividing it into muddy grids. Two men carrying clipboards, father and son, strode carefully across the plots in old green rain boots. The sky above was mottled a pigeon gray raining cold and straightly vertical. They stopped suddenly.

"What is that?" asked Niels, the elder of the two.

"Huh," replied Egil.

"What is planted in this plot?"

Egil flipped through several plasticized papers on his clipboard.

"This looks like plot should be...control maize?"

They both stared at AY456. Growing in the center was a three foot tall leafless stalk with a purple-blue tinge to its skin.

"That can't be right," said Niels.

"It's definitely modified."

"It looks tropical."

"We're not running tropical tests right now."

"We're not running any tests in this area right now."

Niels scratched at his thin white beard.

"When was this plot last surveyed?" he asked.

Egil again flipped through his papers.

"Uh...three months ago. Aproximately. It was control maize again then, and there was nothing unusual in the notes."

"Who took them?"



Neils approached the stalk while his son looked on, and to both their horror, the stalk sunk into the muddy ground and disappeared.

"Well!" exclaimed Niels, placing his hands on his hips.

Egil dropped his clipboard in the mud.

"This is a new sort of...critter," said Niels, grinning. "Let's get a shovel."

Within an hour they were back at the plot with shovels and with Margaret, Egil's wife. Niels dug enthusiastically while Egil was more reserved and scooped up smaller portions of mud. Margaret looked at the scene with skepticism and disdain, and she shivered under her raincoat. They dug down three feet and found nothing. They took a break.

"This is ridiculous," said Margaret looking at Egil, pleading with her eyes for his support.

"It's true. I saw it," he said simply.

"It's not ridiculous!" exclaimed Niels, panting from his exertions. "It's evolution. Assisted evolution! All these microbes we make and put in the soil were bound to exert selection pressures on the things we plant here and so--"

"What if it's not?" interrupted Egil.

"What do you mean?" asked Niels.

"Plants don't move like that. Plants are rooted, they--"

"No, that's not true. The plants in the ocean, phytoplankton, they move--"

"They are carried by currents, they do not move of their own accord."

The three looked at each, Niels still smiling but the breadth of the smile fading.

"What if it's not...of this Earth?" asked Egil.

Niels laughed while Margaret looked on grimly.

"Of course it is 'of this Earth' as you call it," said Niels. "You always believed that interstellar travel was possible, but have we seen it? No. There is no evidence that any aliens have ever visited Earth. You read...too many of those books! It is far more likely that it is something of our own cause."

"Lack of evidence did not mean that something did not happen!"

"It means that it is unlikely to have happened!"

Both men were getting red in the face. Margaret picked up a shovel and started digging.

"You two always get into these philosophical arguments!" she said. "Meanwhile, we still need to track this thing down, if it does exist. Who knows what it is, but it could ruin the other experiments. Once we find it, we can argue about its origins."

She threw up large shovelfuls of soil. The others rejoined her and they worked until the pit was six feet deep and a little more than that wide, almost the entire plot.

"Where is it?" asked Niels angrily several times. Finally he threw out his shovel and climbed up to the edge and sat down in the mud. They sky was clearing a bit and the sun peeked out.

"Maybe we need to set a trap," said Egil.

He put down his shovel and climbed, then gave his arm to Margaret so she could climb out as well. They were all completely covered in mud. They sat silently in the burgeoning sun, exhausted.

"You are turning purple," said Egil to his wife, with some shock.


"The mud..."

"Oh you are too--"

They examined each other and saw that the places were the sun touched the mud it turned a bluish purple and coagulated. They wiped it off and slung it into the pit. They stood and saw that where they had sat the mud was brown but in the sun it was purple.

"It's the soil--"

"The microbes. It is us after all."

"This will spread!" exclaimed Margaret. "We have to contain it!"

"No!" said Niels, "we must study it."

"We can do both," said Egil, sounding somewhat relieved.

The ground beneath them started to give way and they ran to nearby plots. The displaced soil returned to the pit, filling it up again. The sun was out completely from the clouds now, and they looked around and saw all the soil for acres turning purple.

"This is not good," said Margaret. "This is too fast. This is not possible. No microorganism can spread that quickly in just a few weeks."

"Dormancy," said Niels. "This has been waiting...or gestating perhaps. Light and temperature could trigger this transformation."

The sun returned behind a layer of fast moving clouds again, and the field darkened. The purple faded, except for several spots that rose up into stalks. The three attempted to get near the stalks again, but they disappeared into the soil.

"It is futile," said Egil.

"No," said Niels. "Let's take soil samples back to the lab."

"We will have to burn the field," said Margaret.

Margaret and Egil left, their hands on each other's backs. Niels stayed, looking out over the stalks which seemed to be growing in view of the visible eye.

"Such a shame," said Niels. "We'll kill you, dissect you, study you, but will not let you be what you are, this beautiful new thing."

Niels hung his head, then knelt down in the mud. He pressed his hands into it and felt the squelching material between his fingers.

"It is my fault...that you will not find your place like all the living things that came before you. You will not have a chance to fight, or to become something greater than your progenitor. Not on your own. Not without guidance. That is not the way it should be."

He stood and wiped his hands on his pants then retreated to the lab following the others.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

353/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Time and Space" by The Accidental

The two brides sat in different rooms, connected by a passthrough open to the morning breeze. They were surrounded by their sisters and listened to music. Their heads were shaved, long locks falling to the floor. These were gathered up and burned along with incense and flowers on a copper platter in the middle of the passthrough. Their bodies were washed and bold lines of conductive blue, yellow, and pink were painted on their bare skin by steady hands. The lines were widest on their backs and tapered to millimeter strips that swirled at the fingertips. The paint swirled again around their crowns. Their waists were wrapped in red and blue fabric that trailed out behind them as they walked and their chests and backs remained bare.

As noon approached the music was turned off and the women began to sing. Each sister contributed a verse, and they spoke of the bride's achievements and attributes and the fond memories they had of her. The songs flowed between the passthrough and the brides could hear the songs of the other. Finally at noon, while the singing turned into chanting, the brides ran to the passthrough to meet each other for the first time. Their sisters followed, glowing with anticipation. The brides stood in front of the platter, face-to-face, and touched their noses together briefly in greeting.

"Are you part of it?" asked the brides of each other, together, as was tradition.

They both nodded and cast their eyes down. This sisters hushed their chanting to silence then all knelt down on the floor in a semicircle. There was a separation of a foot between the women of the two once-warring houses and furtive, flirting glances were exchanged.

The brides brought their hands together slowly and touched fingertips. They willed electricity to flow through the conductive paint, each color carrying a different signal. The world faded away to lightness. The brides felt the sensation of being inside the other's body, what it was like to be them physically, recorded over the course of their centuries long lifespans, felt their pains, their ecstasies. They lived each other's memories as well, completely, and spoke aloud of the memories that were most deeply impressed.  The last color carried the signal for their dreams and their hopes--the things that had separated their houses for so long--and they finally understood.

In the late hours of the evening they separated, sweating and disoriented. The sisters of both houses who were now lounging and talking with each other slowly broke into applause, and when all the sisters realized the ritual was over, the evening was filled with a roar of approval. The brides hugged and cried for the peace, the love, and the relief they had brought to their sisters.

Monday, April 9, 2012

352/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Silhouettes" by Herman's Hermits

"I was walking by." Matthew stood in the threshold of the breached door. His knuckles bled onto the floor in quiet drops.

"Pl-please." Karen was kneeling on the floor against the sofa, her mouth gashed open on the left side. "Not again."

"Again?" asked Matthew. "Why again?"

"You don't remember, do you?"

Matthew's lips trembled as he processed what this might mean.

"You did this before?" he asked, his voice faltering higher. Tears formed in his eyes.

"No," said Karen calmly. She started to rise but Matthew took a step forward and she sat back down. "You think you're my boyfriend, but you never were."

"Of course I am!" screamed Matthew.

"What is my name then?" asked Karen. "What is my name!" she screamed back.

Matthew took a step back and fell into the shredded door jamb. He took heavy breaths.

"Sarah. Your name is Sarah."

"No. No it's not. That's not my name."

"It is. It's you. It's Sarah."

"No Matthew, it isn't. Sarah was my twin sister and you killed her two years ago."

"NO! No you're Sarah. You're Sarah!" Matthew began to cry.

"Let me call the police, okay Matthew?"

"No. No, you're Sarah. You're Sarah."

"Let me help you Matthew, I can help you--"

Matthew lunged forward and grabbed Karen by her neck. She choked and scratched at his arms with her fingers. He bit into his own cheek and filled his mouth with blood then spat it into her face. Karen stilled herself and stared at Matthew. She reached under the sofa and pulled the shotgun towards her. Matthew pressed his knee into her chest and shook her. Karen propped the barrel against her thigh and pulled the trigger. The shot missed Matthew, further splintering the doorframe, but he let go of her in shock. As he turned to look where the shot landed Karen readjusted her aim and the shot tore into his chest. Blood sprayed against the living room blinds. He stumbled back until he hit the windows and slumped down, his eyes open but his heart stopped.

Karen shook with tremors as she stared at Matthew's still form. She pushed the gun away towards the kitchen with her feet. Then her breathing slowed and evened out. As the sound of sirens approached she felt a coldness inside her.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

351/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Heroes" by David Bowie

There was sand on the floor and the smell of heated steel in the air. There was steam and men and women in leather wearing black lensed goggles. The sparks glowed white then yellow then red and metal on metal rang out in the cavernous forging room. There were forms for casted parts, a thigh plate, toes, twelve different sections for the skulls, arms and hands. Steady hands poured yellow metal and it oozed into the moulds made of sand.

Body parts cooled, plunged into steaming water. They were stored on steel shelves for a short time then assembled with the rough scarred hands of children who never played and never sang. The sun arced across the sky from darkness to darkness before the children left their benches.

More small hands installed the electronic guts and then the assembled metal soldiers were briefly booted up to see if all the connections worked. Consciousness flickered for a few seconds, saw the room, did not know what it was, was frightened, but paralyzed by design, could not flee the assembly line. The soldiers were boxed and stored.

Before they were shipped, bombs shredded the forgery. Men and women and children burned, and so did the boxes. Many of the soldiers melted like tin toys, but two of the boxes fell from their shelf. The soldiers inside shorted and turned on. They saw the flames, the white light, and heard the screams and snapping of metal and wood. They had no orders, no knowledge of the world, just their initial programming that let them move their bodies. They saw each other, recognized the similarity in the other. The disorganized electronic chatter in their brains calmed, and for a moment, they each knew peace.

Then the flames reached them. They looked down to see their feet engulfed, and felt the heat, but they did not move. They looked again at each other's faces. The heat moved up, seeping through matrixed atoms, zigzagging, sagging, liquifying. their bodies shorted out and they fell, and returned to nothingness.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

350/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Rise Up" by Diane Birch

The sun still beat down on the tin-roofed house as flies attempted to squeeze through the screens in the open windows. Nona Sue sat on a stool in a corner and picked at the plaster. Her face was wet but she was no longer crying.

"It's okay," said her older sister Ivonette. "Mama's gone to church."

"What if she comes back?" asked Nona Sue.

"She won't not for a few hours. There's the church social after the service, then she'll stick around for the funeral of Mr. Benson in the afternoon."

"She likes funerals."

"That she does."

Ivonette walked around the doorway, pressed her back against the wall then slid down it until she was sitting at the same level as Nona Sue.

"Why didn't you go with her?"

"I told her services would be around if anyone noticed that you were home alone today."

"Gruff is here."

"Dogs aren't allowed to care for children."

"He's better than Mama."

"He is. Doesn't change the law about it."

Nona Sue slipped down off the stool and into Ivonette's lap. Ivonette began to finger-comb her sister's matted hair.

"I didn't do anything wrong," said Nona Sue. She stuck her thumb in her mouth and listened to her sister's heartbeat.

"What did you do?"

"I said I didn't want to wear a dress, and Mama said 'all girls wear dresses' and I said I didn't want to be a girl then if I had to wear a dress all the time and then she smacked me and said I wouldn't go to heaven and God doesn't love me and she made me sit here."

Ivonette chuckled.

"You're a bad one," she said.

"No I'm not!" Nona Sue pulled away from her.

"Oh, I meant that in a good way."

"How is bad good?"

"You stick up for what you believe in, though Mama does that too I guess. It's good to stick up for what you believe in, even if it gets you in trouble sometimes."

"I guess sitting here isn't too bad. It's boring though."

"We could go outside and play baseball."

"It's too hot."

"What do you want to do?"

"Tell me a story."

"Hmm. Did you hear the one about the frog?"

"What frog?"

"I guess not then. Well, there was this frog, and he was a smart frog. He had gone through all sorts of book learning and read so much that he needed glasses. And you can imagine how hard it is for a frog to wear glasses, they kept slipping down his slimy nose and he kept having to push them back up all the time."

Nona Sue giggled and pressed closer to Ivonette.

"And the more and more he read, the more and more he learned about the world beyond his pond and the more and more he felt he didn't know about it. But that was different than the other frogs in the pond. They all had very strong opinions and they liked to ribbet them out at night to each other when the sun went down--" Ivonette changed to a low croaking voice, "The world is the pond! When it rains, it's the sun that's crying! The water makes the tasty flies we eat so we should thank the water for them! And of course the frog would say, No, that's not right, that's not right at all, and he would go and try to explain why and they just ignored him."

"Why did they ignore him?"

"Because he once said that he didn't know much about the world, which was true, but he still knew more than they did. Plus they didn't trust him because he enjoyed reading more than he did swimming, catching flies, or sunbathing, which is what all the other frogs did."

"What did he do?"

"He made friends with the ducks!" said Ivonette with a big silly grin. Nona Sue exploded into a fit of laughter.

"Why the ducks?" she asked giggling.

"Because they understood what he was talking about. They flew above the pond and away from it, so they knew the world was bigger than the pond. They flew above the clouds so they knew that the sun didn't ever cry. They weren't sure about the flies and the water, but then they didn't pay much attention to flies to begin with. The frog could have decent conversations with them."

"So that's the end?"

"No. One day, the frog had had enough, and he asked the ducks to take him away from the pond so that he could see the world for himself. The ducks were skeptical, thinking he might dehydrate and shrivel up, but he knew this wasn't true and he finally convinced one to fly him away, and she did. She carried him in her beak and they flew away from the pond and he got to see the forest and cities and towns and farms and one day she even took him to the big big ocean."


"Yes. She set him down on the beach and they watched the waves roll in and out. Then she said," she switched to a raspy voice, "you know, I never would have come here if you hadn't asked. We've both seen something new. Thank you. Thank you, said the frog."

"They were good friends."

"So are we, don't you think?"

Nona Sue thought about this.

"Am I the frog?"

"Yes. And I'm the duck. And we're going to have lots of adventures together, and it doesn't matter if we get into heaven or not because we'll be happy just as we are."

Nona Sue smiled and hugged her sister tightly. Then they ate ice cream and played Scrabble.

349/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "I Might Tell You Tonight" by Scissor Sisters

There were stacks of stolen library books, or more politely, as-yet-unreturned, desiccated food crumbs, piles of wrinkled clothes, a turned over floorlamp with a flickering bulb, and most alarmingly, little pieces of paper with cramped-written numbers taped to all the walls, including the inside of the closet, in layers an inch deep and from floor to ceiling.

Mabel the landlady stood just inside the doorway clutching her black purse, with her horn-rimmed glasses and thick lenses hiding the mild shock she was experiencing. A Virginia Slim burned by itself in her mouth. She took a step forward, her thick black industrial heels carried her heavy frame clear of the door and she slowly shut it behind her.

"Mr. Griffin?" she asked. "Your rent is past due and I'm here to collect. Mr. Griffin?"

She sucked down the last of the Slim then walked over to the kitchen sink and put the butt out in a slimy coffee cup. A peculiar stack of books on the counter caught her attention. She read the spines:

- Navigating Spacetime for Dummies
- The History of Stellar Cartography
- The Ethics of Quantum Computing: Yes, No, or Maybe
- Bring Your Dog! How to Travel Safely with Pets

On top of the stack was a clear sheet of plastic, the kind that went on an overhead projector. Mabel picked it up with her gloved hands and examined it. There was something oddly attractive about it. She pulled off one of her gloves and stroked the surface. It lit up, and Mabel threw it back on the stack, her heart racing. It was opaquely white with six black boxes in the middle. It glowed for a full minute before winking back to clear, and Mabel jumped again. With a trembling hand she stroked it again and it did the same thing. She did not know what to make of it.

"Oh this is very strange," she said to herself.

She shoved her gloves back on and turned her attention to the numbers on the walls. The bits of paper were from various things--newspapers, notepaper, magazines, and even wallpaper samples, and the numbers were written, scored over and over, in different types of ink.

"Mrs. Kozlow."

Mabel whirled around and faced Mr. Griffin. He was several days unshaved, his suit was rumpled, he smelled of sweat, and he carried a carton of eggs. He stared at her expectantly.

"I've come to collect the rent," she said, her voice oscillating.

Mr. Griffin looked at his watch, which appeared to be set to the wrong time.

"What day is it?" he asked.

"It's the twelfth of March, Mr. Griffin. Your rent was due on the first. You owe me sixty dollars."

Mr. Griffin snickered.

"What?" asked Mabel.

"Nothing...nothing," said Mr. Griffin.

He walked past her and placed the eggs on the counter. He produced a wad of cash and flipped through it.

"It looks like you have a lot of odd bills there," said Mabel, straining to get a closer look at the multi-colored bills.

Mr. Griffin turned his back to her and rolled his eyes. He picked out three green bills and checked them over, then turned around and handed them to Mabel.

"Foreign currency," he said as she accepted the money.

"Do you travel a lot Mr. Griffin?"

"Not at the moment," he replied.

They stared at each other for a moment. Mr. Griffin rubbed his nose and Mabel twitched her fingers and pursed her lips.

"That's all I guess," he said, nodding his head towards the door.

"You know, you ought to keep this place up a little better. This isn't a slum."

"I'll be sure to take your concerns into account," he said.

Mabel shifted her weight but made no move for the door.

"What is all this?" she asked, pointing at the paper on the walls.

"Isn't it obvious they are numbers?"

"Well, yes, but what are they for? Why did you have to put them up on the walls?"

"I don't know what they are for, and I put them up to see them better."

"But why?"

"Mrs. Kozlow, haven't you ever heard the expression, 'curiosity killed the cat'?"

Mabel frowned, and snapped open the purse. She plunged her hand in and pulled out a revolver, pointing at Mr. Griffin's chest. He immediately raised his hands.

"What are you doing?"

"In America, we don't take kindly to your kind."

"What?" he backed up against the sink as she waved the gun around.

"Communists!" she hissed.

Mr. Griffin laughed out loud then quickly tried to look serious.

"You think this is funny you pinko!" She pressed the gun to his shirt button.

"I'm not. I'm really not a communist!" he said breathlessly.

"You think I don't see the signs? Mysterious comings and goings, that foreign money you have there, the strange devices. All these pieces of papers--these are drops! Yes I figured that much out. You may think I'm just a quiet widow, but I'm not! I've got a mind for figuring these plots out, and I've uncovered you, and when I turn you in I will get a big reward!"

"Oh, no dear Mrs. Kozlow, that's not...what do you mean by drops? Oh you're quite deluded."

"Drops? Well communicating with your fellow spies. I've followed you, you see. You meet with other long-haired weirdos--"

"They're just beat poets. I'm just interviewing them for a--"

"Don't try your mind control tricks on me!" she screamed.

Mr. Griffin pressed his lips together and his eyes widened.

"Now you listen to me!" she said, "We're going to down to the police stat--"

Mabel toppled over. A man stood over her, a brick in his hands.

"The cavalry is here," said the man. He looked identical to Mr. Griffin, but shaved and with a new suit.

"Is she dead?" asked Mr. Griffin.

"No," said the other Mr. Griffin.

He knelt down and pulled a small device from his pocket and held it against her temple.

"Good idea, bone growth enhancer. I'll have to write that down, I can never remember what to bring."

"She won't remember this, so you won't have to worry about reprogramming."

"Good, that's always a hassle."

"I've got to get better at blending in or I won't pass the exam."

"So you haven't taken it yet?"

"NO. Sheesh, stop asking."

"I didn't....oh. I wish I could just shortcut to the future. You know, where I've got a license already. No more itchy suits...access to the internet...a cure for cancer."

"Yeah, wouldn't that be nice. Try to stay out of trouble will you? This crap brings down my grade point average."

The first Mr. Griffin grimaced back at his future self. The second Mr. Griffin stood and adjusted his vest.

"Yes. Yes I know that," said the first Mr. Griffin.

"I'd best go. It's never good to talk to yourself."

He left quickly, and the first Mr. Griffin set about dragging Mrs. Kozlow down the flight of stairs to her apartment.

Friday, April 6, 2012

348/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Oh No Oh My" by Wham Bam Thank You Spaceman

We met in the prison of a drug lord, in a cell covered with long hairy moss and pooled water in the bottom. She was thrown in and fractured her hip, so the first thing I heard from her was a loud shrill scream. Then she fainted.

We talked a lot while she convalesced. We didn't talk about our crimes but she mentioned that she was studying for her doctorate in anthropology. I didn't tell her what I did. She went on a lot about linguistics and lost languages and I didn't really know most of the terms she used but she was really excited about the work. We talked about our homes and our countries and laughed a lot about the cultural differences. Nothing physical happened between us, it was not the right place and not the right time, but I think there was love between us. Mutual.

Our food was lowered in a basket everyday and I offered some of my portion to her because she was healing and she usually refused. She ate delicately, always sure not to chew with her mouth open, which made me practice my own manners. We both lost a lot of weight, and we were occasionally pulled out to have information extracted. I think I wouldn't have survived my time in the cell without her, without anyone there to talk to. Finally our ransoms were paid and we released. It was bittersweet and we left on different planes for different countries out of an airport with weeds growing out-of-control on the runway.

She told me her email address before we parted, and I sent a message to it, but it bounced. I tried find her on the internet but with no success, and then I went through her embassy and they turned me away, saying they couldn't divulge any information about her.

I saved up and flew to her city. I sat in a small hotel room for most of the first day, looking out the window at grimy housing and trams on wires. How did she come from a place like this? She was so different. She didn't match. I wandered the streets, avoiding traffic and beggars and getting lost. I didn't know where to look for her--I sort of sought her out by intuition. Where would such a person be? I tried the one park, which had dead trees and brown grass, even with all the rain. I looked around at all the houses that fronted it, but could find none that matched her personality--a sentimental long shot.

There was a library with grates on the doors and it was guarded over by ancient librarians who shuffled across marble floors that hadn't been polished in decades. I asked to see the city's phone books, and was brought to a room with layers of dusty, pulpy books. Hours passed as I searched through the years, going backwards. Then I found her name, in 1985. She wouldn't have been born yet. I wondered if it was a relative. There was an address.

The house was on a gloomy street and matched all its neighbors. It was sided in nothing but tarpaper. I knocked on the door. An old woman opened it a crack.

"I'm looking for Anouska," I said.

The woman's eyes went wide.

"She doesn't live here anymore," she said in a heavy accent.

"Do you know where she lives now?"

"She is dead."

She started to close the door but I stuck my hand in. She paused and looked at me angrily.

"She was my friend," I said, my chest heavy. "When did she die?"

"Nineteen-eighty-five. Thirty years ago. She was my daughter."

I removed my hand. The old woman's gaze softened. She reached her hand out to my face and stroked my cheek.

"You are not the first to come here," she said. "You are not the first of her friends. Yet she never comes to us." The woman looked at her hands for a long moment. "Whatever it is you've done, she does not see it as bad. I know that much."

"I uh..."

The old woman nodded.

"Please don't come back. Don't bother us."

She closed the door and I stood on the stoop, then walked slowly back down the street and back to the hotel where I pulled the blinds shut for three days. Then I left for home and tried not to think of her.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

347/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Clumsy" by Fergie

"'It's a real shame poverty is so unaffordable', is what she said."

"Did she really say that?" asked Smith, flicking toast crumbs from his shirt.

His wife Jane stood next to the kitchen sink with the paper folded over. She was drinking from a large mug of coffee that said Ibiza!

"There are worse candidates," she said, then flipped the paper over.

"We should get going," said Smith looking at the kitchen clock.

They went through their often practiced, nearly choreographed routine of getting out of the house. She slipped into her shoes and checked her teeth in the hall mirror, he ran back and forth through the hall three times trying to located the wallet and set of keys that were already in his pocket. They put on their jackets, opened the door, and remarked about the weather. Then the car. They both enjoyed the moment when both doors were closed and they were in the sudden muffled silence of the cabin. It required several minutes of non-speaking to appreciably enjoy, but Smith interrupted it this time.

"Who preps her?" he asked.

"I'm not sure," said Jane.

"Hmmm," muttered Smith and they returned to silence.

They drove out of their neighborhood and to the checkpoint. Jane rolled down her window.

"Please lean forward," said a guard with clear plastic over his regular uniform.

Jane leaned out the window while the guard scanned her retina.

"You're new, aren't you?" asked Jane.

"I was here two years ago. Just got back from my mandatory tour." He said the words flatly, without expression. Jane knew not to inquire further. "Carry on. There is light rioting about three blocks to the west, but no major demonstrations are expected."

"Thank you for the forecast," said Smith, leaning over into the driver's side beginning to thrust his hand in front of Jane.

Jane rolled her window back up and drove on.

"You didn't give me a chance to ask him who he's voting for," said Smith.

"Probably not you," said Jane. "He's a vet."

"Oh," said Smith. "I wasn't listening."

They drove through a raised neighborhood with clear lines of sight. Bollards demarcated the edges of the usable road and prevent vehicles from going off track.

"Do you have your speech memorized yet?" asked Jane.

"I'm not an eight-year-old, I can use the prompters."

"Voters have more trust in candidates who seem like they can make collected remarks off-the-cuff."

"Speeches are never off-the-cuff. Not unless you're a Castro or a Stalin."

"That's not what I mean," sighed Jane. "Anyway, it's a minor point. Not worth a fight."

They drove over a patch of rubble where a bomb had gone off sometime in the last month. There were still bits of the car on either side of the road. They bounced and felt their spines.

"What do you think she was trying to get at?" asked Smith. "Cara I mean."

"Representative Linney," said Jane. "Always say her honorific. You don't want to come off too friendly with her. You're a married man and people don't trust when straight married men get too friendly with women."

Smith rolled his eyes.

"As for what she said, she was probably remarking that the cost of living is too high for ninety percent of the people and mixed in too many code words, like 'affordability'. Of course, that fact is incredibly obvious--"

"Should we play it?" asked Smith.

"What? No. No." Jane concentrated on the road but mulled the thought. "No. Definitely not. If the media amplifies it then maybe, but I don't think they will take too much more notice. It's not a scan--"

Jane slammed on the brakes. A dog sped by followed by a group of howling teenagers with hand fashioned nets and sharpened sticks. Jane pumped the horn with an angry face. One of the teens stopped, panting, and lingered in front of the grill. He looked the armored car up and down then laughed grimly and shook his stick in Jane's direction, then flashed her a vulgar gesture. Jane pressed the accelerator and the car pushed the teen down. She rolled over him and didn't look in the rearview mirror as they passed.

"I'm not sure I should have worn this tie," said Smith looking down at it.

"It's fine," said Jane.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

346/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Le disco chinois" by Rubin Steiner

The sound of the drill was worse than anything else about the whole thing. Bzzzzzzzeeeeeeeeeinnnnnee It started off high-pitched than grew more labored as it dug into Phil's skull. He shoved his eyes shut but,

"Please keep your eyes open," said one of the observing surgeons. She stared at him through several layers of glasses and a mask that anonymized her as he forced his eyes back open.

"It's just..."

"You're fine," said the surgeon. She looked back up at the others who were working around his crown. "Don't move," she glanced back down, almost irritated.

"I can't," said Phil. He could feel his armpits getting quickly wet, even in the cold air of the bright room.

The saw was turned off. He could feel movement and pressure around the top of his head, then a shlict, and a dull clink of something against metal. He surmised the flap of skull was lifted away. He'd never been separated from a body part before, and he suppressed a wave of nausea with that novel thought.

The surgeon in front of him got his attention with a fingersnap. He cast his eyes up, grimacing.

"We're going to begin testing, if that's alright with you."

"Yes, yes fine. What else am I going to do here?"

Her eyes gave a faked smile. She looked up and nodded to the others. She watched something intently for half a minute. Phil felt pressure. She nodded again.

"The probe is in."


The surgeon changed her stance and glanced from one point to another to another--Phil wondered how many people were in the room.

"On in three..." intoned a surgeon behind Phil, ""

Everything went dark.

"Hello?" asked Phil.

A large lizard crept out of the darkness, its scaly skin like yellow sandstone. It flicked out a blue tongue.

"How are you doing?" asked the lizard in a raspy voice.

"I want out now," said Phil.

Clear lids slunk across the lizard's eye, then retreated back again into the crevice of its skin at the corner of its eye. It licked the air again.

"Why is that?" asked the lizard.

"I thought I was supposed to be reliving all my memories. This is not that."

"Maybe you are."

"No. No this is definitely not anything I remember. I really hope."

"Okay, we'll adjust the probe."

The lizard looked up and nodded. It was replaced briefly with the surgeon again, then he saw a window. It was dark outside and he was inside. Green grass resolved itself, there was a lawn. He heard the laughter of children.

"What do you see?"

Phil turned to look for the source of the voice--it was his mother, wearing white polyester bellbottoms and a flowered halter top. Her feet were bare and she held a lit cigaretted in her hand. There was a bruise that covered half her face. She sucked smoke from the cigarette and waited for his answer.

"My childhood."

"Can you be more specific?"

"I don't know what memory this is."

The sky suddenly filled in the window, and light poured into the room--but it was his office back when he managed a small car rental outfit in Houston.

"The window is wrong," said Phil.

"Why is that?" asked his mother. She dropped the cigarette in a glass of fizzless Diet Coke on his desk.

"The memories are mashed up."

"What does that mean?"

Phil walked to the window, not for a moment thinking why he might have legs. He stared out. It was the lawn in front of his house when he was a child in Michigan, summer, with the sprinkler on, waving back and forth. He saw his sister and a few of the neighbor kids all dressed in baggy swimsuits, though he couldn't remember their names.

"Different times. Different places," said Phil.

His mother glanced up above his head and nodded again but Phil didn't notice. He saw himself running around the sprinkler, laughing. He wondered how young he was. He stepped back from the window, the darkness of his shadow receded and he could see his full form. He focused on it, and details filled in--white hair, slumped posture, slack clothes.

"I'm old," said Phil. He looked at his arms and hands, and saw only the ample flesh of middle age. "I'm not."

"Are you disoriented?" asked his mother.

"No," said Phil. "But why am I seeing the future me?"

"Are you?"

Phil thought for a moment. His mother bit her lower lip and stared at him with a slight air of disappointment. The bruise migrated to the other side of her face, and she was wearing a bowed blouse now, with jeans.

"You died of cancer," he said.

"Me?" asked his mother.

"My mother. Nineteen-ninety-two. August."

"So I appear to be your mother."


His mother lit up another cigarette and breathed it in like a suckling piglet. Phil looked away. He was on a road now, Kansas somewhere out through the endless rolling grass. He walked slowly and felt the weight of his backpack. A beard itched at his back. He looked back around. There was no one there, just the breeze and the contrails of planes above full of people avoiding the very thing he set out to experience in his hitchhiking. Silence.

"Can you still hear me?" he asked.

"We can. Keep talking." It was a small voice in his head.

"I think it's everything. It's not memories."

"What do you mean?" The voice was now beside him. He turned to look and saw another version of himself.

"All the possibilities of our lives, rolled up into one."

"Please explain," asked the other Phil.

"See the grass?" asked Phil.

He stopped and pointed out over the field, then slipped off his backpack and let it slide to the ground. The other Phil only looked at him.

"Oh, I guess you can't see what I'm seeing," said Phil. "Well, each blade is like each possibility."

He started off into the grass, crushing a path.

"What we remember is the path we make, the possibilities we take, you know?"

The other phil stared mutely at him.

"The other possibilities are still there. Always."

"How do you know?" asked the other Phil.

"I don't I guess," said Phil.

He looked down into the grass, sadly. The blades spread and grew, then exploded into a foam of water. He was in the ocean, in a wave turning over him. He did not know which way was up. His back scraped against coral, sandy water filled his nose and sinuses, then cold air graced his face. He gasped as the water retreated then instinctively scrambled up and headed for dry sand.

He was naked and he did not recall this as a memory. He sat alone and shivering under a cloudy sky that threatened rain. He was on a spit of sandbar with no significant landmass in sight.

"Don't be afraid," said a booming voice in his head.

"What?" asked Phil, now much more afraid. His heart flopped in his chest.

"You are awake now," said the voice.

"Yes, of course!" yelled Phil, not sure why he was yelling.

"There was a problem."

"What problem?"

"The probe went to deep. It damaged your motor control. We put you on life support so you could breath and your heart would keep beating. It was several weeks ago."

Phil looked down at his body--the flesh of his chest was transparent--he could see his bones and blood vessels, clear purple lungs, and the frighted heart that resided at the center.

"I'm dead," said Phil.

"No," said the voice. "You have the option to move on to another existence. The probe has since...fused with your brain."

"What does that mean?" he asked.

"You can do whatever you want in your own reality."

"I could do that before."

There was a long pause, and the waves began to slow down, as if they were made of gelatin instead of saltwater.

"We don't know what that means."

"Maybe I wanted it to be like this," said Phil.

"It was our fault. Your family is being compensated."

"I don't have any remaining family in the path that I took," said Phil suspiciously. "There is so much..."

He stood and looked into the sky. He waved his hands above his head and the clouds parted to reveal a stunning night sky. A star exploded and flooded the world with bright, warm light. It faded quicker than it should have. He realized a lizard was standing next to him.

"You want to stay here, don't you," said the lizard.

"I don't know."

"We are working on a way to get you back, to repair the damage and to extract the probe. It would be dangerous though."

"I have to think about going back to a world where only one path is taken, where I live only one life instead of many."

"Maybe it's that way because it's less disorienting," said the lizard.

"How long have you been with me now?" asked Phil.

"Three years," said the lizard.

"Has it been that long? Only moments have passed for me."

"We think you are skipping over things. Focusing and remembering only the parts that you enjoy. Your brain activity is very...energetic."

"Am I still whole?" asked Phil.

"What do you mean?" asked the lizard.

"Am I a whole person? Here or wired up somewhere back at the hospital."

The lizard cocked its head in contemplation.

"You might be more," it said.

He looked down at his toes in the sand and saw the stars reflected in the gelatinous, frozen ocean.

"I could create whole worlds I think," he said. He knelt down and drew a circle in the sand with his finger. "How long has it been now?"

"Ten years and a little more."

"How long can you keep me alive?"

"Your body is gone now. Your brain is kept fed in a nutrient bath. It's growing over the probe. We've given you a lot of room to grow."

"But do you have funding to keep me alive?"

"We've started a donation drive. It's been thirty years. I am retiring."

The lizard fell onto all fours and waddled out into the gelatin. It pushed its way under and disappeared, leaving a hole that slowly filled in on itself.

A cool breeze followed by pink light swept across his back. Leaves flowed in front of him on the air. The sand blew away and he was standing on black rock. He turned around and saw a stand of trees--red maples, and yellow poplars, all in a row, alternating. A woman in a white abaya and veil stood next to a poplar.

"Who are you?" asked Phil.

She bowed to him.

"A humble worshiper," she said.

"Why do you worship me?" he asked, striding towards her.

"You have lived longer than anyone."

"I am no longer a human, and I don't know if I am still living."

"You are more human than the rest of us. You have grown, and you have shown us many worlds and taught us about many possibilities."

"I have?"

"Yes," said the woman. "We know you do not remember these teachings. It is another part of you that does, many other parts, that all speak to us directly."

"Where are you? In the hospital with me?"

"No," said the woman. She shook her head. "I am here. With you."

"But your body--"

"I never had a body. I was born of thought, because I could be."

"My thought?"

"No, the thoughts of your disciples."


"Because we can. Because it takes less resources to live a life this way. We can be more. We can be infinite."

Phil walked closer. He unfastened her veil, she looked him directly in the eyes. He pulled it away and let it drop. She had no mouth, just smooth skin from her nose to her chin.

"Press your finger to your...face," said Phil.

She did.

"You don't need a mouth to speak," he said, not knowing where this bit of wisdom originated, "but you should have one. Think. Will one."

Her eyes smiled, and she drew her finger from side-to-side across her face. A slit opened up and her jaws slowly parted. The inside of her mouth was red and stained with blood, but there were teeth. She smiled and looked in pain.

"It will heal," said Phil, again not sure of his words.

"You have shown us the way," she said, bowing, and moving past him, towards the gelatinous sea. Her form grew larger and taller, her abaya billowing out. She dove in, and as her body disappeared, her feet became a wide flat tail.

Phil leaned against the tree, waiting for something else to happen, then realized his brain, his wisdom, independent of him, no longer needed him--it had grown complete. It would not bother him anymore. He closed his eyes and brought back the road in Kansas. He picked up his backpack and started walking.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

345/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Heaven Can Wait" by Charlotte Gainsbourg

Their faces were wrapped in strips of muslin, their eyes blinded behind the fabric, their hands cut off and healed over. They walked slowly, feeling the road ahead with their bare blistered toes. Abby watched the road from a distance. Her head was shorn and her breasts were bound under the black wool vest she wore everyday hunting in the forest.

There was a man driving the women, like a gaggle of geese with their wings clipped. He smoked a pipe and barked out occasional orders to keep them in line. When one tripped or dropped of exhaustion he kicked them until they got up. He had a dog too, a large slathering cur that loped in and around the women's legs, biting and nipping. The dog periodically ran back to his master who gave him copious hugs and little treats.

The sun was low in the late afternoon sky, and behind Abby. She nestled further into the leaves on top of the little ridge. She caressed the long gun and fed in the strip of bullets. She aimed and shot one round at the dog--it dropped motionless. The man cried out and looked around. The women crouched. The man took the woman nearest him and pressed her against him, but he faced the same direction as Abby and his back was exposed. Another bullet ripped into his spine at the base of his neck and he slumped back. The woman screamed and fell forward.

The women waited and so did Abby. Then one got up and started running, finding her way off the road and into the nearby irrigation ditch. Another got up and ran, tripped, and got up again. There was another, but the rest remained crouched, afraid to even whisper to one another about what happened. Minutes passed. Abby aimed again, and shot each of the cowering women in the head. Then she got up and walked silently back into the depths of the forest.

Monday, April 2, 2012

344/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "In Motion" by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from The Social Network soundtrack

She woke up mid-air, in her nightgown but her body was still paralyzed from the deeply induced sleep.

"You must...find you way out," said the controller in a voice that slithered over the syllables.

Veronica sucked in a gulp of air and her eyes opened wide but could see nothing in the pitch black. Her arms and legs pinwheeled for purchase on anything, but her position remained static in the microgravity. She screamed.

"Shhhhhhhhhh," said the controller. "You won't get out any faster."

"Where am I!?"

"In a maze."


"There is a prize. If you find the exit, your species will survive. Your planet won't be so lucky...either way."


"You should get started...before you run out of oxygen with those greedy lungs."

Veronica rushed her breaths, then held them.

"It's just a dream. I just have to wake up. Just a bad, bad dream--"

"It's never a dream, little creature."

Veronica closed her eyes and felt the air around her--warm with occasional cool tendrils--it had a direction, a flow. She breathed entirely through her nose--no smell, no odor, no clue. She reached her arms slowly above her head and felt for anything to grab onto, but there was nothing. She moved her legs and feet in the same way, but nothing. Swim, she thought, then put her hands again above her head and alternately swept her feet back and forth. The cool air increased but she couldn't tell if she was moving.

Her hand met something sharp and cold and it went into her palm.

"Aaah!" She felt the warmth of her own blood welling up, then smelt its iron scent. "What is that?"

Veronica pulled herself closer and her other hand scraped against sharpness.

"Aaaaaah no!"

The rest of her body came to meet the surface, but with less damage, and she clung there, unsure what to do next.

"What is this place?"

"It is a maze."

"Who are you?"

"I control the maze."

Veronica thought about this a moment.

"What are you?"

"Not one of you," said the controller.

"Is this a test?" she asked.

"It's a game."

"Am I in space?"

"You should keep going."

"I want to know why I'm here."

"If you refuse to play you forfeit the game and your species dies."

"You say 'species' like you're not human."

"We aren't."

"How do you know English then?" asked Veronica.

"It's not hard to decipher the infantile chatterings of an inferior species."

Veronica blushed at the insult.

"Do you forfeit?" asked the controller.

"No," said Veronica instinctively, but mostly believing the whole thing was some elaborate ruse. "Can I have some light?"

"Ah, yes, your primitive little orbs cannot see in this frequency range."

There was a soft repetitive clicking sound, then a blinding light. Veronica shielded her face in the crook of her elbow. When her eyes adjusted a bit she ventured to look out, and saw a large lit orb floating in the middle of a spherical space made of obsidian which was embedded almost entirely with the jagged teeth of many animals including some so large that the animals they belonged too could never have lived on Earth. The sphere was punctuated with dark holes of various sizes, and in the space itself floated other people, unconscious, and partially cocooned in a fine layer of black silky filament. Veronica shivered.

"Who are they?" she asked quietly.

"The rest of your species."

"Oh." Veronica felt numb; her fingers, feet, and face tingled. "If I find the exit, they will live?"

There was a brief pause.


"You're just going to make them run the maze, aren't you?"


"Then there is no prize," said Veronica. "And no incentive to win. You have already decided my fate...our fate."

"You don't know that for sure. You don't know what the exit leads to."

"I suspect it's just an airlock to open space."

"You make the assumption you are in space."

"There's no gravity."

"There's always gravity, even if your slimy brain can't detect it."

"What if I come after you? What if I take one of these teeth and cut my way through to you, and kill you! What do I get then!?" Her voice was shrill and reaching, her face strained and pale. "What do I win?"

Her answer was a rumbling coming from the smaller holes, then the stench of rotting leaves and vinegar. There were faint squeals. Veronica pulled herself closer to the wall breathing hard. The holes erupted with an oily, reddish liquid; the smell was intense and rank and Veronica gagged. Great globs of the liquid floated into the middle of the sphere, undulating as they traveled, and doused the sleeping humans in their path. Then out of the holes came flesh--snaking, writhing bodies of pink, purple, white, and black, speckled and slimed red. They did not move smoothly, they were not like snakes or worms, but were angular, jointed, like legs going on for far too long, and the skin was marked by protuberances that were clearly the limbs and skulls of consumed humans.

Veronica's fingers shook violently and she lost her grip. She scrambled to get back to the wall but in her fear she forgot how to swim the air. She fell into a liquid glob, and breathed it in, filling already aching lungs--she coughed and gagged and tried to flail free of it, but then the bodies found her by her heat, wrapped around each limb and her neck, and they pulled in opposing directions. She tried to scream, but was dead before she could expel her lungs.

The bodies squeezed the acquired parts, opening large pores on their sides let the pieces slip in to be digested. Then the orb in the center of the sphere dimmed and winked out, and the bodies returned to their holes to await the next participant.